It was the third and final day of Chicago’s Pitchfork music festival. A slightly overcast sky was starting to part, as one of Chicago’s most promising new musicians picked up their guitars for an energetic performance that even included a little crowd-surfing.
This garage rock band has made big moves since its inception in 2013, from a Logan Square basement to the main stage at Pitchfork. We caught up with two members of NE-HI after their Sunday afternoon set to talk about what it means to represent their hometown at one of its premier music festivals, over a couple of Goose Island brews, of course.
Who are you and what’s your role in NE-HI?
James Weir: I’m James and I play bass in NE-HI.
Alex Otake: I’m Alex. I play drums and emotional support.
Today, we’re drinking Goose Island beers, but what is your typical beer of choice?
J: I think 312 is a classic American lager that’s one step up. No, two steps up from Budweiser.
A: My two favorite breweries in Chicago, hand-down, are Off Color and Marz. They’re both phenomenal. But, listen to the next part I’m getting to. My really good homies opened up this new brewery in Logan Square called Hopewell and they make really great beer and have a beautiful taproom that everyone should check out.
What was your first beer?
J: It was a warm Budweiser and my buddy made me slam it. His parents were out of town. It was like 5 or 6 p.m. and it was the most vile tasting thing I’ve ever had. But I’ll drink a Budweiser today and I love it.
We’ve played a lot of fests and a few big stages, but in terms of the crowd today, that was fucking awesome.”
How does beer fit into your lives as musicians?
J: We drink a lot beer. I live with three other people and we drink a lot of Tecate and a lot of Miller High Life. I like craft beer, but I haven’t been drinking as much of it in the past year, because I really like Mexican beer. I like Pacifico beer. I like Tecate. My roommate’s Mexican and we’ve been drinking a lot of mezcal in the past year.
A: When I’m performing I like lighter beer. You don’t want some heavy. I’m also a big fan of sours. Marz, again, they make really amazing sours. I’m trying to think of the exact name of it. Marz makes one called Ruby’s Tears that really great and Duchess De Bridgeport.
How did you guys come together as a band?
J: We’ve been around Chicago since 2013. A few of us went to DePaul and met there. Alex and I met when he invited me to work at a sandwich shop in Wicker park called Melt, which was arguably the worst business in the history of American capitalism. They didn’t pay us. I think I worked there for two months and might have made 70 bucks. We met that way and then we started making music.
A: It was the worst job I’ve ever had, and I worked at TGIFridays. If that’s any indication of how bad it was.
J: You’re going to work a million hours and wait for you paycheck for months and you’re never going to get it. And that’s how we met.
A: Now we’re in love.
Have you guys performed at a festival or concert of this scale before?
A: We played at North Coast, but nothing like this.
J: We’ve played a lot of fests and a few big stages, but in terms of the crowd today, that was fucking awesome.
What’s it like being a hometown band playing at Pitchfork?
J: It’s crazy. Last night we had a show at Lincoln Hall. It was a packed show with a lot of our friends. It’s kind of cool, because there’s a lot of pressure off the technical performance and it’s just about putting as much energy into it as you can and feeding off the hometown crowd.
A: It’s the first time someone’s crowd-surfed at our show, right?
J: No, it’s the first time one of the band members crowd-surfed. Jason definitely fell on the ground.
A: He fell on his head.
J: I fell on things too.
Crowd-surfing aside, how do you feel about your performance today?
A: It was good. I feel really good about it. It was really fun. We had a good crowd reaction and we were just having fun up there and it seemed like everyone out there was having fun as well.
Who else have you seen perform this weekend?
J: I camped out yesterday for Angel Olsen for like two hours. We purposely showed up late to our sound check to see her. She’s amazing. We’re friends with some people in the band. That was an absolutely incredible set. She also did a set at Café Moustache, it’s a small bar in Logan Square, the night before and we went to that.
A: Friday I saw Kamaiyah, a female rapper from Oakland and she was unbelievable. A really great and really awesome, positive person who just got the crowd going. It was really cool.
J: Our homies Priests from D.C. They’re super cool. They played on Friday. They’re really awesome and put on a great show.
When you guys aren’t playing or listening to music, where do you like to drink?
J: My house. He works at a cool beer bar in Logan Square called Small Bar that you can speak to better than I can. It seems like of the best places for beer in Chicago.
A: It’s a really cool, small, neighborhood bar that has an unbelievably great beer list and really good bar food, too. I was in the kitchen there for a long time.
J: My favorite bar in Chicago is called Danny’s. It’s a spot in Bucktown. It’s a lot of really great DJs, music and I am most happy drinking a Schlitz there.
If you guys had to pick one beer to pair with your music, what would that be?
J: Old Style. It’s got to be Old Style, right? Or Schlitz. It’s American beer that’s cheap and packs a punch.
A: Schlitz, definitely Schlitz.
J: Or Mickey’s.
A: It’s a 40 of Old English.
J: It’s Schlitz. A 30-pack of Schlitz. I’d say it’s 30 Schlitz bottles. Definitely a Midwest beer. Maybe Blatz. To me Blatz is the word in a comic book when it’s like, ‘Pow!’ It’s like a hard kick, ‘Blatz!’ We’re definitely a band rooted in Midwestern rock.
J: Schlitz is a beer you want in a dark bar.
A: Where no one can see you.